by Mike Hoban
‘Torrey Pines’ – Director: Clyde Petersen; Animators: Clyde Petersen & Chris Looney; Production Team: Aidan Baxter-Ferguson, Jack Carroll, Dena Zilber, Terrance Robinson, Merce Lemon, Zach Burba & Leah Gold. Original music recorded in collaboration with Kimya Dawson and Chris Walla. Presented by ArtsEmerson at the Emerson Paramount Center Jackie Liebergott Black Box through February 17.
Admittedly, Torrey Pines, the moving and often hilarious stop-motion animated feature film now making its Boston premiere at the Emerson Paramount Center Jackie Liebergott Black Box, is not your everyday coming of age story. In the director’s notes, Clyde Petersen says his film – which is also accompanied by his live band, Your Heart Breaks, – “is for queer punks, trans youth and people who struggle with mental health issues in their lives”, but it’s also for anyone who enjoys imaginative animation, quirky (and painful) storytelling, and great live music.
Based on a song that Peterson wrote with Kimya Dawson in 2007, Torrey Pines tells the story of a middle-school girl becoming aware of her sexual and gender identity while being raised by her booze-swilling, chain-smoking grandmother and her schizophrenic mother, who kidnaps her and takes her on a cross country road trip. The girl (who has no name) encounters the usual day-to-day stuff kids grow up with – enduring a crush from the boy in her math class, being obsessed with a TV show (in this case, Star Trek: The Next Generation), and going to a concert for the first time with your parents. But the scenes with her mother – who hallucinates alien encounters and acts out – are alternately funny and terrifying when viewed through the lens of a 12-year old girl watching her mother go mad.
But it’s the little vignettes where she realizes that she is gay (as she makes out with Star Trek ship psychologist Deanna Troi in a dream sequence) and trans (when her mother steps out of the shower naked behind her and she envisions herself having babies and knows that she wants no part of that existence) that take the experience out of the realm of after-school specials. The live band (who watch the film with us and keep their backs to the audience) is also a major plus, providing the film with some gorgeous tracks.
The animation for Torrey Pines at first seems crude, much like the original 1992 South Park short that spawned the series, but it quickly grows on you and becomes weirdly beautiful as it goes on. Every one of the animations are hand painted, giving the film an immense vibrancy of color. The story line is loaded with so many seemingly random details that it gives it a fullness I wouldn’t normally associate with animated work. It’s also infused with a ton of late 80’s-early 90’s pop culture references (Crocodile Dundee, CHiPs, and video games that I recognize but can’t remember the names of) that are a scream.
Torrey Pines is sure to resonate with its intended audience, but it’s also great entertainment for the rest of us. For more information, go to: https://artsemerson.org